In honor of the advanced Class A California League celebrating it’s 75th anniversary, the Lake Elsinore Storm hosted the annual California versus Carolina League All Star Game this past Tuesday, the 21, at the Diamond in Lake Elsinore and Lauren and I were fortunate enough to attend.
We had tried to get to the game last summer when it was hosted in Rancho Cucamonga, but my prolonged hospital stay following our horrific car accident endured that we missed it, despite having tickets. When I saw that the 2016 game was being held in Southern California for an unprecedented second straight year I marked the date on my calendar and bought tickets as soon as they went on sale.
Lauren and I took just over an hour to drive to Lake Elsinore and arrived shortly after the gates had opened for the pre-game FanFest. We had no idea what FanFest entailed, but thought it would be fun to try and get some autographs, especially since the Cubs were sending several members of their Advanced A team, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans to the event.
Most of the ballpark was open to fans and there was a “Fun Zone” available, but the main draw for the FanFest was the chance to meet and get autographs from some of baseball’s future stars. The players from the Carolina League had the first set of autograph sessions, meeting fans for an hour while the California League players took batting practice, and then the leagues switched roles.
Upon first arriving, we were not entirely sure what was going on, so Lauren went ahead of me on a scouting mission, while I held my ground in what seemed to be the longest of the lines formed around the concourse of the ballpark. Our instincts were right, as it turned out, we were in line to meet 3 of the 4 Pelicans players, including top prospect, Ian Happ, and pitchers, Zach Hedges and Jake Stinnett. Despite the line looking fairly intimidating, we did not wait more than 30 minutes or so and the wait was amusing, with mascots from many of the teams represented at the game wandering the concourse and interacting with fans. I even got a kiss and a beard scratch from Thunder, the Storm’s fuzzy green dog mascot.
When we reached the table with the players they could not have been more gracious. They signed autographs with a smile and gave in for any specialized requests. I got a chance to talk very briefly to Hedges about the fact that we had gone to the same college and Stinnett complimented me on my Pelicans t-shirt (journalistic objectivity be damned.) My one regret for the whole interaction was the fact that for some reason I didn’t ask for a photo with them, which I’m sure they would have willing obliged.
By the time we had finished collecting our things, the Carolina players were about to head down to batting practice, so Lauren and I headed to the team store to see if there was any specialty All Star game merchandise. We lasted only a few minutes in the jam-packed store and didn’t see anything that particularly struck our fancy so we headed down to our seats, a row behind the visitor’s dugout.
Lauren headed back up to the concourse for some snacks, since we still had about 2 hours until the pre-game festivities would begin and returned with some standard ballpark fare; some nachos, hot dogs and a cold lemonade, all of which were tasty, if unremarkable.
I always enjoy watching batting practice, though in retrospect, I should have sought out some of the California League All Stars for their meet and greet sessions, but the benefits of resting my legs and relaxing for a little bit cannot be overstated.
The pre-game festivities began with a local band doing some *interesting* covers of ’80s rock songs and that was followed up with a helicopter from the local hospital landing on the field and delivering Thunder to the game. The pre-game also featured the induction of the initial class of the California League Hall of Fame, with all of the inductees present to receive the honor in person, which meant fans got to see Jose Cruz, Jr., Storm hitting coach, Xavier Nady, 500 home run club member, Gary Sheffield and MLB Hall of Famer, Rickey Henderson.
Following the Hall of Fame presentation was the introduction of the All Stars. All of the non-starters were driven to their respective baselines by a parade of classic cars. A Navy parachutist carrying the American flag landed on the field and the game was underway.
A player for the Lynchburg Hillcats, an Indians farm team, and San Diego native, Greg Allen, got on base as the leadoff hitter and proceeded to steal 2 straight bases and come in to score. The Carolina League never looked back and the game felt like significantly more of a blowout than the score of 6-4 would indicate.
The Carolina All Stars always seemed to have something cooking on offense, and when the pitching allowed men on base, they seemed to get out of it with little to no pressure, until the 9th inning when Potomac Nationals pitcher, Evan Phillips gave up 3 runs and left with men on base. Even then, Pelican starting pitcher, Trevor Clifton came in to slam the door on the attempted comeback and nail down a save.
Clifton wasn’t the only Pelican to have a great showing at the game, however. While Happ was hitless, he had 2 good at-bats and looked good at second base, which is a relatively new position for him, as a converted outfielder. Both Hedges and Stinnett pitched hitless innings, and Hedges turned a particularly gorgeous double play. Speaking of Hedges, I mentioned earlier that he and I both attended the same college, located about an hour away from the Diamond, and the Zach Hedges fan club was in full force at the game. During his inning pitched, I think we heard the loudest and most enthusiastic cheers during the whole game, including any for local Storm players. It made for a fun environment…particularly for this Pelican fan.
I’d be remiss not to mention some of the other stars of the game, including the previously mentioned Greg Allen, who in addition to his 2 stolen bases managed to score 3 times, his teammate in Lynchburg, Bobby Bradley, who hit a monster home run and game MVP, Andrew Stevenson from Potomac, who hit 2 triples in a ballpark that seems far too cozy to give up too many extra base hits. If you are looking for some Cal League players to keep your eyes out for, I’d suggest looking at High Desert 2nd baseman Travis Demeritte, who is second in all of the minor leagues in home runs and hit a loud double in the game, San Jose shortstop CJ Hinojosa who had 2 RBI and his teammate, reliever Rodolfo Martinez who was lighting up the radar gun in the mid-90s.
I love going to minor league games and seeing some of these talented players so early in their careers. It gives me a sense of pride, a “I saw them first” baseball hipster vibe, and attending the All Star game just heightened that feeling. The Cubs, Giants and Indians (Hillcats) seem to have quite a bit of talent coming up through their systems and it will be nice one day to be able to say “I saw them when…”
Until next time (…and I promise it won’t be long!)
Keep Trippin’ Baseballs!
Let me make this clear. The Angels are my second favorite team in baseball. Most years I will root for them to go 162-0. This year, however, I was pulling for a 158-4 record and the first two games of the season were two of my anticipated and hoped for losses. And they try to tell me that dreams don’t come true.
We arrived to Angel Stadium shortly before the gates opened and parked literally right next to the home plate entrance. The stadium lot is only $10 this season, either due to more parking now that the Amtrak station moved down the road or the fact that the Angels were tired of getting undercut by nearby businesses renting out spaces in their parking facilities. I was prepared to pay up to $20 due to my lack of mobility and discomfort walking the half mile from the outlying parking options, so to see the price at half of the cost to park at Disneyland, I was elated.
The aforementioned lack of mobility discouraged me from heading to the first base side of the ballpark, where the Cubs dugout was, to seek autographs or baseballs and Lauren and I headed straight to our seats above the bullpens. I spent much of the pre-game as close to the field as I could get, watching the Cubs take batting and fielding practice, watching Jon Lester warm up and chatting with fellow Cub fans.
The interesting thing about the pre-game activity was the fact that Manny Ramirez was hanging out in left field with Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber and even shagging a few baseballs himself. No one called to him for autographs or baseballs, and I wonder if no one recognized him, or if people just didn’t care. I tend to think it was the former.
While I didn’t notice any of the Cubs signing autographs at all during the pre-game, I later heard that Jake Arrieta was shagging baseballs in the outfield, pulling a pen from his back pocket, signing the ball and tossing it into the stands, which I happen to love. Post-game I saw the bullpen guys throw at least a half-dozen baseballs into the crowd, so the early reports of the Cubs being not so fan friendly on the road seem to me to be a few jilted autograph dealers upset that maybe the players weren’t signing a dozen baseballs for every fan who asked.
While I was watching the Cubs get ready, Lauren did a reconnaissance mission of our seating area so that we could plan our food for the evening. I like nothing better than a basic hot dog at the ballpark, but sometimes it’s nice to branch out. We opted for the burger bites, which are essentially White Castle sliders, minus the onions. They were topped with a sweet “thousand island-esque” sauce that was fine, but really, I could take it or leave it. They were served in a bucket with fries that were average ballpark fries. Overall, I’d get them again.
In the same vein, later in the game we shared a sticky sweet strawberry “rum-a-rita” in a lurid shade of red and the basic Angel dog. Both items will easily be repeated as the season goes on.
The game was great, as Jon Lester was dealing against an anemic Angel offense and the Cubs bats must have brought some of the heat of Las Vegas with them when the came to Anaheim. Home runs by Matt Szczur, Dexter Fowler and one-half of the Bryzzo Souvenir Company as well as a pure hustle double by David “Grandpa” Ross highlighted the offensive onslaught.
There was a very curious moment in the top of the second inning when Angel pitcher, Andrew Heaney threw one pitch to Anthony Rizzo, stepped off the mound and disappeared into the dugout. I wasn’t sure whether he had been caught doing something illegal to the baseball, but I never saw the umpire gesture that he had been tossed from the game, and immediately jumping on Twitter, learned that he was dealing with a nosebleed. I don’t know if there is any correlation at all, but the Angels placed him on the disabled list today with a muscle strain. Not a good thing for a franchise that is already very thin in the pitching department.
Lester pitched 7 strong innings and only allowed 4 hits, which marks a significantly better start than his first Cub start last season. Later, Trevor Cahill, Travis Wood and Pedro Strop all made appearances out of the bullpen and all looked very sharp.
As I said, we were seated right above the bullpens, in an area with a few fairly vocal groups of Cub fans, including a drunk man in a Cubs onesie and two of my favorite people from work, Shaun and Arvin. I really want the Cubs hockey-style sweatshirt that Arvin was showing off.
We left the game with little to no hassle and as we sat in the parking lot of the Big A I plugged in my iPhone and played “Go Cubs, Go” since the Angels didn’t have the common courtesy to play it for us after the “W.”
Thank you Angels for the 2-0 start. You can start winning now. At least until you head out to Wrigley later this summer! As usual, a gallery of game photos can be found right here.
Until next time,
Keep Tripping Baseballs!
While I don’t fully understand the reasons that the Cubs would play an exhibition game on the day before they open the season against the team with whom they are going to play to start the aforementioned season I cannot complain too much. The fairly ill-conceived game provided me with two opportunities to see my Cubs in my town, since tickets to the actual opening day were selling for slightly more than I was willing, or able, to pay. Adding to that, the fact that the exhibition was taking place on a beautiful Sunday afternoon and I was sold on the idea.
The crowd for the game was significantly less than I had anticipated, possibly due to the fact that the two teams were playing “for real” the following day, and there was a healthy number of Cub fans in attendance, many located on the first base side close to the Cubs dugout.
The thing that irritated me a bit was the fact that while Joe Maddon started the same lineup that will be starting on Opening Day, the Angels didn’t even bother with trotting out the regulars, even for a few innings. Mike Trout and Albert Pujols were both conspicuously MIA.
The ballpark appears much the same as it has over the past few years with no real notable additions or subtractions, either aesthetically or in relation to food offerings, which is a bit of a shame.
All of that being said, however, it was great to get back out to a baseball game, and while the end result of a Cubs loss is never a good thing, Kyle Hendricks pitched well and struck out more than a batter an inning and the Bryzzo boys crushed a pair of home runs adding to one from Addison Russell. Albert Almora showed his amazing defensive skills, as well.
I will also be attending game two, featuring Jon Lester and hopefully seeing the Cubs head to Arizona with a 2-0 record!
As always, the full gallery of photos can be found here.
Until next time,
Keep Tripping’ Baseballs!